Kill (work) or be killed (by the arse that ensues when you pursue things that will almost certainly turn out to be shit).
Here’s a great article from ‘Hey Whipple’ author Luke Sullivan on what makes a great CD. There are many wonderful pearls to extract, but I wanted to bring up one point that Luke hammers home towards the end:
Another thing I wish I’d heard less of when I was a young creative?
It usually comes during a creative meeting. Someone in the back of room puts down their donut and says, “Well, if I could just be the devil’s advocate here for a sec….”
Dude, shut up.
Ideas are fragile. The bubble can pop so easily. Instead of being the devil’s advocate, why not be the angel’s advocate? Don’t just blurt out what you hate about something. Not liking stuff is easy. Anyone can do it. It’s harder to find out what’sgood about the idea. The trick is finding that little coal and then blowin’ on it till it’s flame.
I forget where I read this quotation from writing coach Jay O’Callahan, but it went like this: “It is strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses. When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive.” He went on to suggest, “If our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose our intuition to notice beauty.”
I found this very same advice from a venture capitalist, David Sze of Greylock Partners: “Anyone can tell you why something’s going to fail. The real trick is to find out why something will succeed.”
There is, of course, much to agree with here. It is indeed the CD’s job to spot diamonds, whether they be in the rough or glinting right in front of your face. However, I just want to explore in greater detail what a CD should do when faced with an idea that might not fly in its current form…
‘The trick is finding that little coal and then blowin’ on it till it’s flame.’ Absolutely, but what if there is no little coal? Or what if the coal would require a great deal of blowing to reach a flame that’s either going to be very small or much smaller than another flame you (the team) have ignited? I think it’s also the CD’s job to make the call of when it’s not worth pursuing a certain idea because there are limited time resources and one (or more) of your other ideas is better. That’s not to say a CD shouldn’t be positive if there is positivity to be found, but just as you sometimes have to scrape away the rough to expose the diamond, you also have to tell the team to stop digging if they have accidentally found themselves in an underground cubic zirconia lab.
Luke also says ‘when you eat a turd, don’t nibble’, and I’d say, both as a creative and a CD, the desperate search for something worth pursuing in an idea that needs to die is more damaging, in terms of wasted hope and effort, than a quick bullet to the back of the head.
There isn’t always something good in every idea (and by ‘good’ I mean ‘worth pursuing in the context of the other work’), and telling people there is will only lead to heartache on both sides. On the flip side, Luke is right, that if there’s a faint glow that looks like it could become a forest fire then blow on that puppy like a motherfucker. But don’t apply those electric heart paddles to a corpse.
Have I mixed enough metaphors?